Madam Secretary

Clinton: U.S. leaders will not make Afghanistan war decisions based on opinion polls

When it comes to the Afghanistan war, Secretary Clinton says that U.S. leaders are making crucial life-and-death decisions based on what’s best for national security, not based on results of public-opinion polls. She made the remark at yesterday’s news conference on the Afghanistan war review after being asked whether the Obama administration could continue the ...

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

When it comes to the Afghanistan war, Secretary Clinton says that U.S. leaders are making crucial life-and-death decisions based on what's best for national security, not based on results of public-opinion polls. She made the remark at yesterday's news conference on the Afghanistan war review after being asked whether the Obama administration could continue the war if high levels of American public support could not be maintained. (A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 60 percent of Americans surveyed -- a record high -- do not think the Afghanistan war has been worth it.)

Clinton had this response (my emphasis in bold):

It is our assessment, backed up by 49 other nations that are also committing their troops, their civilians, their taxpayer dollars, that this [war] is critical to our national security.

When it comes to the Afghanistan war, Secretary Clinton says that U.S. leaders are making crucial life-and-death decisions based on what’s best for national security, not based on results of public-opinion polls. She made the remark at yesterday’s news conference on the Afghanistan war review after being asked whether the Obama administration could continue the war if high levels of American public support could not be maintained. (A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 60 percent of Americans surveyed — a record high — do not think the Afghanistan war has been worth it.)

Clinton had this response (my emphasis in bold):

It is our assessment, backed up by 49 other nations that are also committing their troops, their civilians, their taxpayer dollars, that this [war] is critical to our national security.

Obviously, if we had concluded otherwise, we would have made different decisions.…

I’m well aware of the popular concern and I understand it.… Leaders, and certainly this president, will not make decisions that are matters of life and death and the future security of our nation based on polling.

So I think it’s understandable and I’m very respectful of the feelings of the American people. But the question I would ask is, how do you feel about a continuing American commitment that is aimed at protecting you and your family now and into the future? Because that’s the question that we’ve asked, and this is how we’d answer it.

Certainly, crucial security decisions shouldn’t be made based on whatever public opinion happens to be at the moment, but over the long term, you can’t sustain a war without a critical mass of public support. A full-blown, counterinsurgency, nation-building strategy will take decades to succeed, if it can even succeed at all. Most Americans are unlikely to have the stamina for such a long-haul approach, given the dire unemployment and fiscal problems at home. For now, it looks like the United States will pull out when Afghanistan reaches some minimally acceptable state that some administration officials have been calling "Afghan good enough."

Video of yesterday’s news conference (the exchange about opinion polls begins at about 17:20):

Preeti Aroon was copy chief at Foreign Policy from 2009 to 2016 and was an FP assistant editor from 2007 to 2009. Twitter: @pjaroonFP

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